Saints offseason overview: Quarterbacks
METAIRIE – Last Saturday was the 14th anniversary of the New Orleans Saints first signing quarterback Drew Brees as a free agent.
As the start of NFL free agency 2020 looms, the Saints are working again to sign the NFL’s all-time leading passer.
An agreement that would have Brees returning to New Orleans for the upcoming season seems a fait accompli, but getting a deal done before the start of free agency would be beneficial to both sides.
The new NFL year and the start of free agency are scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. CDT Wednesday, though Saints coach Sean Payton said Saturday he expects the start to be delayed because of complications due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Brees’ status was always going to be the prime mover in the Saints’ offseason roster rebuilding.
His presence or absence was going to have a trickle-down effect on the quarterback position, which is further complicated by No. 2 quarterback Teddy Bridgewater being an unrestricted free agent and No. 3 Taysom Hill being a restricted free agent.
Brees, 41, said after the season that for the first time in his career retirement was a realistic possibility.
He told the NFL Network during Pro Bowl week in January that each time his contract with New Orleans has expired “It’s not a matter of if it gets done, it’s when.”
“At this stage of my career,” Brees continued, “it’s not a given that I’m coming back every year, but when that time comes, I’ll always be a Saint.”
Meanwhile Saints general manager Mickey Loomis made it clear that retirement was the only impediment to Brees returning to the Saints.
“It’s easy to take him for granted, yet I don’t take him for granted,” Loomis said during Senior Bowl week. “I don’t view it any different than I did a year ago, or a year before that, or a year before that — regardless of whether he has a contract or not. He’s a great player, he’s been a great player, he continues to be a great player.
“We’d love to have Drew back and if he wants to be back then we’ll go from there.”
Less than a month ago, Brees, who played his first five seasons with the San Diego Chargers, took to Instagram to announce he was coming back for a 20th NFL season.
“I look forward to the grind and the journey, for the reward at the end will be worth it!!!” Brees wrote. “Let’s make another run at it!”
Brees is committed to the Saints. The Saints are committed to Brees. If the Saints sign Brees before the start of free agency they will be much healthier under the salary cap than they will be if they don’t. If the Saints are healthier under the salary cap they can build a better team around Brees.
So it’s in the best interests of both the Saints and Brees to get a deal done before the start of free agency regardless of when that is.
Brees’ decision to return likely means the departure of Bridgewater after two seasons even though he demonstrated his ability to ultimately be Brees’ successor after helping lead New Orleans to a 5-0 record when he started while Brees was sidelined by thumb surgery last season.
New Orleans signed Bridgewater to a one-year, $7.25 million contract last season, but he figures to command significantly more on the market this year after his performance last season.
As for Hill, he’s in a unique position because he has substantial value to New Orleans as a part-time quarterback/specials teams leader/running back/fullback/wide receiver/tight end.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier this month that the Saints were planning to place a first-round tender on Hill, which would mean another team would have to give up a first-round draft pick to sign him away from New Orleans.
The Saints would also have the right to match any qualifying offer that Hill might sign with another team and keep him. Schefter added that the Saints planned to re-sign Hill before free agency begins, thus making the tender moot.
Hill told Schefter earlier in the offseason, “I’m in no hurry to leave New Orleans.”
So, like Brees, Hill seems destined to return because it’s in his best interest to stay and it’s in the Saints best interest to keep him.
But Hill’s value in so many other capacities makes it unrealistic to think he can be New Orleans’ No. 2 quarterback next season.
Though the Saints’ currently have no quarterbacks under contract, it’s all but certain that Brees and Hill will be back.
But Bridgewater’s likely but not guaranteed departure means finding a No. 2 quarterback will be a major factor in free agency and perhaps the draft.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…